Prisons are a demanding environment for video cameras with virtually no tolerance for system failure, which is why the Corrections Division of the Calcasieu Parish (LA) Sheriff's Office uses Panasonic vandal-resistant dome cameras that are through-bolted into 6 inches of concrete. Installing a surveillance system of 145 cameras at the Corrections Division's facilities was complicated by the fact that each new camera introduced into the prison environment had to become “live” immediately to ensure the equipment was working properly. “You can't just work where you want to work,” said Tate Richard, President, RedAlert Security Services, the systems integrator on the project. “The doors are locked. It's a prison.
You have to get someone to let you in.” There are challenges for cameras installed outdoors in the recreation areas of the Calcasieu (pronounced CAL-ca-shoo) Parish correctional facilities – including the subtropical climate 25 miles from the Gulf of Mexico. Humidity and salty air can be an issue for any equipment installed outdoors and then there’s always the possibility of hurricanes. “Things happen to cameras installed outside here that wouldn't happen anywhere else in the country,” said Richard. “When Hurricane Ike came through, we started shuffling prisoners along the coast, trying to determine where the hurricane was going to hit,” said Mark Piatt, security auditor for the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office.
“Installation of video cameras enabled us to monitor the process of transferring 1,200 prisoners along the coast to dodge the hurricane.” The Corrections Division of the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's office includes the Calcasieu Correctional Center, the Calcasieu Sheriff's Prison and its annex, the Women's Correction Services building. In all, the facilities can accommodate 1,366 inmates at any given time, representing all stages of the legal process. Whether waiting for a pretrial proceeding or serving a lengthy sentence after conviction, prisoners are housed in maximum, medium or minimum security, and some participate in a work release program. As the facilities began to implement the new Panasonic video surveillance system, Mark Piatt was tasked with overseeing the project.
As a Panasonic certified i-Pro reseller, Sheldon Hefler, President, Deep South Systems Integration, suggested the Panasonic i-Pro IP video surveillance products for the job and partnered with RedAlert Security Services on the installation. Specifically, Hefler recommended the i-Pro WV-NW484S vandal-resistant network fixed dome camera. “I really like that camera and thought it would be a good choice for this application because of its Super Dynamic technology which provides superior image quality and lowlight performance along with sturdy physical construction,” said Hefler. The camera features outstanding day/night operation with light sensitivity as low as 0.08 lux in black-and-white mode. The camera is also IP66-rated for resistance to water and dust, which is helpful in the Gulf Coast environment.
The same features also impressed the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's management team. “When they saw the i-Pro WV-NW484, they gave us the green light to put together a plan,” continued Hefler. Planning The System The previous surveillance system at the facility was outdated and only used monitoring without the ability to record. Sheriff Tony Mancuso, who’s in charge of the facility, asked Calcasieu Parish for additional budget to pay for needed improvements. When the funding became available, the project was put out for bid. “What Mr. Piatt, the security auditor, was looking to accomplish would have been difficult if not impossible with analog technology,” said Hefler. “They wanted to use software within the central managing station over two different sites.
They wanted to be able to pull up groups of cameras at any given spot. That would have been tough with an analog system. Having to deploy 145 analog cameras all connected to this one central location would have been much more difficult than using a gigabit backbone with Power-over-Ethernet.” The product specification was written around Panasonic's i-Pro network cameras with dual-stream output of MPEG-4 and JPEG videofor simultaneous live monitoring and highresolution recording. RedAlert Security Services bid on the project and was awarded the contract with Deep South Systems Integration as the i-Pro liaison. The 145 Panasonic i-Pro cameras installed in Calcasieu Parish correctional facilities include 65 vandal-resistant (WV-NW484S) camera models, used in locations such as intake cells and recreation yards.
All the cameras are fixed-view. “If I point in a direction, I want to know what is happening in that direction. What I look at, I would look at all the time,” said Piatt. The modular nature of the facility also avoided the need for PTZ cameras to cover large areas. Other cameras in the system include 70 Panasonic i-Pro WV-NF284 network color dome cameras for indoor locations such as lobbies, visitation areas, hallways, classrooms and kitchens. The cameras also provide dual-streaming in MPEG-4 and JPEG and a built-in microphone for audio. Correctional facilities in Calcasieu Parish use the audio feature to monitor interactions between the correctional staff and the public to create a record, for example, if there is a problem at the reception desk. There are also five Panasonic i-Pro WV-NP244 network box cameras in various locations.
They’re used with dual streaming and imaging features similar to the domes, and also feature built-in microphones. “The images we get from VGA resolution are awesome,” said Hefler, which precluded the need for megapixel cameras in this particular application. The storage needs of megapixel video were also considered: “We had to base everything on a 7-day/24-hour storage capacity. If you run the numbers with megapixel cameras, they are going to be way up there.” The system design calls for video from most of the cameras to be archived for seven days. Video from intake areas is archived for 30 days. The low-light capabilities of Panasonic cameras are especially helpful in the initial booking areas, where cameras cover each cell and can capture video even if the lights are turned off.
Panasonic's Auto Back Focus feature maintains focus when a day/night camera switches from color to black-and-white mode; precise positioning of the CCD sensor provides accurate focus. The feature can also be accessed from a laptop to ensure correct focus is achieved during installation and post-installation, virtually eliminating the need to send a technician to manually adjust the focus after installing the camera. Camera positioning was critical. “After 14 years of being in this environment, it's second nature to me. So where we think cameras need to be is close to reality,” said Piatt. “We even used a Panasonic camera with a battery, switched to analog output and with a handheld monitor checked the view to make sure each camera is catching exactly what we want to see. The field of view is exactly where it has to be.”
The Network The system was designed so that all video recorders are physically located in the same protected room. All cameras and clients are connected by a closed gigabit network with all ports running at 100 Mbs. The system includes five Network Video Recorders (NVRs), which can be accessed on the prison Intranet only by authorized users. Panasonic's i-Pro WJ-ND400 Network Video Recorder can record up to 64 network cameras simultaneously with multiformat recording in MPEG-4 and JPEG to deliver recording performance on par with the superior images of the Panasonic cameras. The NVRs include four removable 1 Terabyte hard disk drives to provide 4 Terabytes of storage (20 Terabytes total from the five NVRs), the equivalent of 10 days of video on all 145 cameras.
The WJ-ND400 provides video motion detection (VMD) and associated metadata to enable fast, effective searches of video to determine, for example, if anything has moved in a certain area. Users can search for recorded images based on time and date, event and camera, with filtered results displayed in a window. Calcasieu Parish correctional officials like the 64-camera capacity of the WJ- ND400, which provides flexibility for growth, and the ability to expand the storage capacity with additional disks. Up to nine hot-plug hard disk drives can be installed for maximum onboard storage capabilities. All recorders are located in a single rack with a UPS (uninterruptible power supply). Fiber ties the separate facilities together, and the rest of the network is Cat-6 cable connecting Cisco 2960 switches in four secured switchroom lcations.
The network grants access only to view images through the NVRs; users cannot tap directly into a camera. The switches supply PoE for all cameras. Three main central guard stations use PCs with 4-channel Nvidia graphic cards to provide 24-hour/ 7-day viewing. In each location, Panasonic i-Pro WV-ASM100 monitoring and management software running on PC displays group video on a 42-inch Panasonic plasma screen. Local cameras are viewed on split windows on a 20-inch LCD display. Other users can access the video (without WV-ASM100 software) using the Web client side of a given NVR. Each NVR enables up to 16 clients to monitor and control it simultaneously.
Select members of management can log-in to the Web client to see cameras grouped and color-coded based on their function and/or environment. What Comes Next Plans for Calcasieu Parish correctional facility expansion include the possible addition of another pod in Fall/Winter 2009, which would add 200 or so extra cells and require additional cameras. The existing system also enables the facilities to easily add five cameras here or there if they are needed in one of the three separate buildings stretched over nearly 15 acres. The overall infrastructure currently can accommodate up to 200 cameras, so there is room to grow. “We're very pleased the entire project was completed in three months, but it actually has been live since the day it started,” Piatt said.
The first camera had to become live immediately. He also acknowledges the responsiveness of all the various players involved, including Timarron Partners, the Panasonic manufacturers' representative firm who handles the region. Richard explained: “What's difficult from the integrator's position is, the day you put in a camera, it must be recording. There’s potential for the camera to be destroyed otherwise, so we kept these things coming online as we went. From the day the first camera was installed, it has been a live system. In fact, they were using it throughout the installation process.” “We are hard on products and we expect a lot from them,” Piatt said. “The Panasonic equipment is very rugged. All five of these NVR boxes were up from day one. There was a lot of plugging and unplugging cameras and coding IP addresses.
Virtually all of these recorders have never required rebooting.” Despite power surges, “the Panasonic NVRs went through two hurricanes with no problems,” Piatt said. Hefler appreciates the embedded software of the Panasonic NVRs. “The best video software is designed specifically for these applications,” he contends. “The embedded software is so stable, and the feature sets rival anything else on the market. There is no need for service pack programs or anti-virus software as there would be on other platforms,” he said. Final touches to the system include adjusting the frame rate. In some cases a refresh rate of one second is sufficient, which can maximize archiving time. The refresh rate of each Panasonic camera is selectable between 0.1 and 30 frames per second. “We are still tweaking the camera speeds, sneaking up on the seven-day criteria,” said Hefler. “At this stage, we have very usable video and are getting on the average of 17 days of storage on deep South. Despite being faced with these and a host of other challenges, the Corrections Division of the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's office found a system solution that works for them with Panasonic.